Sarah Waters’ new historical novel, The Night Watch, bursts out of the Victorian footlights and into the blackout: it’s set in inner London, in the Blitz and the bleak years just after the war. Great reviews so far.
Rather perversely (pardon me) I haven’t bought or read it yet, because she’s coming to Auckland in a week or so and I’ll go hear her read. What I really want to do is sit down and pick her brains, because I’ve recently written something for kids set in the same place and time (weirdly enough called Firewatcher) and doing the research from the other side of the world is a much longer, slower process than it ought to be.
But enough about me. Jenny Turner’s review in LRB not only gives you an overview of Waters’ previous work, but it’s also a snappy piece of writing in itself:
There is nothing obviously postmodern about The Night Watch – no footnotes, no funny type, no authorial interventions – and yet, in an important sense, it’s a novel not set in the past at all, but in the ‘palpable present’ (the phrase again is James’s) of its own research. Everything in it is written in the footprint of the available evidence – the films, the photographs, the novels, the voice recordings, all the ‘little facts’ that James so disdained – but with every scrap of it reconsidered, reimagined, refelt. The style, completely different from that of Waters’s Victorian books, is that of a writer who has absorbed many, many novels of the 1930s and 1940s; it’s damped, inward, even a little brusque (Waters herself has called the effect ‘restrained’). It’s modern without being Modernist, exactly. It has Elizabeth Bowen and Rosamund Lehmann in it, and Patrick Hamilton, and Denton Welch. The language is rich in period detail, not locked up for best in the china cabinet, but out there among the everyday cups and saucers, working hard…
I, who gasped out loud several times during the reading of the book in question, love this image: “The wonderful Fingersmith surely took the queer 19th-century pastiche as far as it could go. The tale is sensationally melodramatic: while composing it, Waters recalls rubbing her hands at her desk, cackling demonically at its sudden drops and turns.”
You can read the review in full here.